Oscar choices: USCCB ratings
The films named in the “top six” Academy Awards choices by Carl Kozlowski earned the following capsule reviews by the U.S. Catholic Conference and Catholic News Service critics.
Dallas Buyers Club
Despite all the sinful behavior on display, there is a worthy (and Christian) message underlying the proceedings, one that condemns bigotry and uplifts compassion for the suffering. Yet the fact that immorality of various stripes is consistently given a pass in the script precludes endorsement even for a mature and restricted audience.
Predictably for a product of contemporary Hollywood, "Dallas Buyers Club" fails to condemn sexual excess of any kind. It also promotes acceptance, not only of people as individuals but of their actions, even when those actions -- whether heterosexually or homosexually oriented --- are incompatible with the moral teaching of Scripture and sacred tradition.
The film contains a benign view of promiscuity and of homosexual acts, strong sexual content, including graphic casual sex, full nudity, masturbation and sexually themed dialogue, drug use and pervasive profane and crude language. (O, R)
This quiet, unassuming, yet in part delightful film tackles a big issue --- caring for elderly parents --- with realism and sensitivity. Even as it celebrates familial love, respect and understanding, however, screenwriter Bob Nelson's script also includes material that makes this journey through the heartland an unsuitable outing for most viewers.
Director Alexander Payne made a wise decision to shoot his picture in black and white. The result is a canvas both stark and rich, a study in contrasts which suits the combative family relationships on display.
"Nebraska" takes its good time, inviting the audience to savor the hard-bitten slice of middle America on display, warts and all. Amid the salty language and bawdy humor, there are some positive core values and good people on display, the latter too often obscured by the few bad eggs.
The film contains frequent profane and crude language, some sexual references and innuendoes and a few jokes directed at Catholics. (L, R)
At his best, Woody Allen is a brilliant writer-director of comedic films as insightful as they are hilarious. But in his latest venture, Allen turns the lights down low, presenting the dark and depressing tale of a crazed woman whose life is spiraling out of control.
Unfortunately, despite a bravura performance by Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine" misfires by trying to derive most of its humor from the title character’s mental illness -- anything but a laughing matter. In the end, "Blue Jasmine" plays the selfish card. It's every character for him- or herself, seemingly without concern for the welfare of others, least of all Jasmine.
The film contains cohabitation, implied nonmarital sexual activity, an adultery theme and much profane and crude language. (L, PG-13)
Morally and artistically, it's a mixed bag. Its tone is simultaneously mocking and sympathetic; laudable tolerance and hints of moral relativism are both detectable. But viewers committed to scriptural values face two immediate hurdles: the movie's ceaseless barrage of vulgar language and its emphasis on carnality.
The picture is fundamentally optimistic. Objectionable content notwithstanding, director David O. Russell seeks the good beneath the venal. And yet, while he doesn't glorify criminal chicanery, moral culpability is measured on a curve that takes into account the perpetrator's intentions.
Russell displays sympathy for his characters but is not above ridiculing them or trying to mine laughter from cruelty and humiliation. His attempt to negotiate the line between ugly caricature and a positive outlook with harsh undertones is not entirely successful. Too often, moviegoers will sense disrespect and condescension, leading to the conclusion that somebody is trying to make a sucker out of them.
The film contains some violence, a nongraphic nonmarital sexual encounter, constant sensuality --- including frequent partial upper female nudity, numerous gropings and sexually aggressive poses --- several brief instances of drug use, much profanity, pervasive rough and crude language as well as considerable banter and innuendo. (O, R)